The latest site-design plan for Alma Plaza is conforming more to city wishes, according to Planning and Transportation Commission members who viewed the proposal Wednesday, but concerns about parking and pedestrian access remain.
"I can see a lot of thought and work went into this plan. [McNellis Partners is being responsive to the commissioners and councilors," Commissioner Samir Tuma said.
The 4.2-acre site on Alma Street and East Meadow Drive is set to include 27,720 square feet of retail/commercial and community space, including a 15,000-square-foot grocery store. In addition, 14 below-market-rate apartments are planned, plus 37 single-family residences and approximately 8,900 square feet of public parkland. The City Council had approved rezoning the land to accommodate the project in April, and the ordinance went into effect July 19.
Sheri Furman, representing Friends of Alma Plaza, said she thought the design is not friendly to pedestrians because the sidewalks throughout both the residential and retail areas are too narrow. She also said the retail areas are not integrated with the rest of the shopping plaza. Furman believes most of the problems stem from having too many houses in too small a space.
Dennis Mitrzyk said he does not believe the housing serves the neighborhood and is too high density. Mitrzyk said he is looking into pursuing a lawsuit to prohibit the change in zoning.
"This is unacceptable for someone who has used this neighborhood center for over 20 years," he said.
Other community members voiced concerns about potential parking issues. David van der Wilt, who works in a professional building south of the development, had concerns the design will cause parking problems for his staff. They currently use parking spaces in the Alma Plaza lot. He suggested permit parking in the plaza and in front of his building as a possible solution.
Rudy Batties, a resident of Emerson Street, behind Alma Plaza, said he liked the plan but was concerned with opening up Emerson as a pedestrian entrance to the plaza. He thought it would encourage people to park on the cul-de-sac. Seven other Emerson homeowners signed a document stating they do not want pedestrian access from their street.
The commissioners sympathized and mostly agreed with many of the community's concerns.
The only issue the commission did not agree on is creating an entrance to the plaza from Emerson. Tuma, like Batties, thought any sort of pedestrian entrance would encourage shoppers to park on the residential street, as did Commissioner Paula Sandas.
"We should take into account what the neighborhood wants," Sandas said.
But Commissioners Daniel Garber and Patrick Burt said they did not see a huge problem with including the entrance.
Like Furman, the commissioners thought the design is not user-friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians. Burt suggested turning some two-way streets within the complex into one-way, which would leave more room for bicycle and pedestrian pathways.
"One-way streets seem like they make way to utilize the land in other ways," Commissioner Burt said.
They suggested the planning department look into ways to address van der Wilt's concerns.
The commissioners also emphasized maximizing open space. Vice Chair Lee Lippert suggested making the housing semi-detached, rather than fully detached, and removing some parcel lines.
Chair Karen Holman said the park areas should be looked at again. A small triangular park area in the back of the project is detached from the main park in the center of the plaza.
"The park at the back doesn't seem to function very well," Holman said.
Other issues commissioners raised included varying the housing layouts and rethinking the locations of the retail buildings. Commissioner Arthur Keller recommended the grocery store and retail center be adjacent, so a customer could get a cup of coffee after doing grocery shopping without going through a parking lot.
On Sept. 12 the commissioners will continue discussing the design and make a recommendation to the City Council.
In other business, Holman was re-elected chair of the commission, and Garber was voted in as vice chair.